5 Bold (and Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles
Oh, June. It's such a special time of year for us NFL media and fans. Hope is trading at an 11-month high, and almost everyone's healthy, happy and optimistic.
Things will change in the coming months. Most fans will be let down, shocked that their team didn't actually have the glorious offseason it felt like they were having at the time.
But for now, with everyone still riding that high from free agency and the draft, let's make five bold (and slightly less bold) June predictions regarding the new-look Philadelphia Eagles.
1. Nick Foles will be the starting quarterback
Maybe right away, maybe only after Michael Vick struggles or gets hurt (hate to predict the latter, but history and this system aren't on his side). Regardless, Foles will get a chance fairly quickly, and he won't screw it up.
He might not be an ideal fit for Chip Kelly's offense, but Vick is a train wreck, and you shouldn't expect that to change for a 33-year-old veteran who has shown no ability to do so in the past. It might not mean a whole lot, but Foles is already getting plenty of first-team reps in practice, and Kelly has made it clear that things remain up in the air.
That favors the second-year quarterback out of Arizona, who did more with less than Vick in six relief starts in 2012. Matt Barkley isn't ready yet, and Dennis Dixon just isn't as good, so watch for Foles to run the show the vast majority of the time in 2013, regardless of how much money Vick is making.
2. The offense will post top-10 numbers
Last year, with almost the entire offensive line injured for the majority of the season, Vick hurt and LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson missing time (their offense was hit harder by injuries last year than any other offensive unit in the league, according to Football Outsiders), the Eagles averaged only 17.5 points per game on offense, which ranked 29th in the league and was their lowest rate this century.
Expect things to change dramatically in 2013.
Not only should an offensive mastermind like Kelly bring something new and unique to town—something that may or may not be a fad but will still be difficult for defenses to predict and plan for in Year 1—but the law of averages indicates they'll likely be healthier.
And when healthy, it's hard to find another NFL offense that is loaded with as much talent as this one. Regardless of who's at quarterback, when you've got Jackson, McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Bryce Brown, Jason Peters and Evan Mathis at your disposal, you're looking good. Throw in offseason pickups Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and James Casey, and it's scary.
These guys will score a lot of points.
3. Brandon Graham will lead the team with double-digit sacks
There has been some concern about Graham, the talented former first-round pick who finally started to break out during the second half of the 2012 season. After all, he's being forced to stand up as a 3-4 outside linebacker for the first time in his career, and he isn't taking first-team snaps at organized team activities.
That's because the Eagles invested heavily in Connor Barwin this offseason. Coming over from Houston, he's used to this type of defense and has a chance to start opposite Trent Cole.
That won't hold up. Graham is simply the better pass-rusher, and defensive coordinator Bill Davis has already praised him for his transition to the linebacker spot, per CSN Philly's Geoff Mosher.
Graham was rated by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the league's second-best 4-3 defensive end last season. He also drew penalties at a higher rate than any front-seven defender in the league, per PFF.
The 25-year-old is ready to explode. Look for him to at least double his career high of 5.5 sacks.
4. Top pick Lane Johnson will struggle
When you draft a guy fourth overall, you expect him to start and produce consistently from the get-go. Johnson will undoubtedly start Week 1, but it wouldn't be surprising if the offensive tackle out of Oklahoma were to spin his wheels a bit early on.
Two years ago, the guy was playing tight end. He's extremely raw. High ceiling, but raw nonetheless. And his technique requires some refining. That won't happen in one summer, especially as he learns a very unique offense.
Will Johnson end up getting benched like 2011 first-round offensive lineman Danny Watkins? It's completely possible, especially if the Eagles determine that they have confidence in someone who could step into the right guard spot, freeing up Todd Herremans to move back to right tackle temporarily.
It might not come to that, but don't be startled if it does.
5. Bradley Fletcher will become a legit No. 1 cornerback
The free-agent pickup might not be a big name, but it's hard not to love his game. He's physical, he has top-notch instincts, and he rarely gets beat deep.
According to PFF, the 26-year-old gave up fewer yards per cover snap than any corner in the league last year in St. Louis. And that's no fluke. He's been ranked in the top 15 in that category each of the last three years.
Cary Williams is the bigger name with the Super Bowl in his back pocket, and while he's also physical and aggressive with big-play ability, he simply isn't as reliable as Fletcher. I don't imagine it'll take too long for fans to come to that realization this season.
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